Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Conway Twitty came to be known as “the best friend a song ever had.” Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in Friars Point, Mississippi, on 1 September 1933, he moved with his parents, Floyd Dalton Jenkins and Velma Dunaway Jenkins, to Helena, Arkansas, at the age of ten. There he started his first band, the Phillips County Ramblers. In 1953 he was drafted into the US Army, and while serving in Japan, he formed a country group, the Cimarrons.
After his return to the United States, Jenkins embraced the new rockabilly sound of artists such as Elvis Presley, wrote rock and roll songs, and worked with other artists at Sun Records in Memphis. In 1957 Jenkins changed his name to Conway Twitty, taking his first name from Conway, Arkansas, and his last from Twitty, Texas. In 1958 he wrote and released a single, “It’s Only Make Believe,” on the MGM label. It went to No. 1 on the pop charts and sold more than a million copies. A string of singles and albums that made the charts followed, but his next gold record did not come until 1960’s “Lonely Blue Boy.” Between 1958 and the mid-1960s his rock releases sold more than sixteen million copies. He toured in the United States, Canada, and Europe and performed on American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. He also appeared in six movies and wrote the scores for three of them: Platinum High, Sex Kittens Go to College, and College Confidential.
In 1965 Twitty returned to his country music roots, relocating to Oklahoma City and forming the Lonely Blue Boys. The group signed with Decca Records before relocating to Nashville in the late 1960s. Twitty had hits in 1968 and 1969 and performed regularly on the Grand Ole Opry and other major country shows. Renaming his band the Twitty Birds, he consolidated his place in country music over the ensuing decade. His 1970 hit single, “Hello Darlin’,” topped the country charts and crossed over to the pop list, as did many of his recordings. During the decade, nineteen of his solo singles hit No. 1, while nine reached the Top 5. His successful collaboration with Loretta Lynn yielded five chart-topping singles, and they won the Country Music Association’s award for best duo from 1971 through 1974. His albums on the MCA label, Hello Darlin’ and You’ve Never Been This Far Before, sold more than a million copies. During the 1980s Twitty and Lynn notched three Top 10 hits, while twelve of his solo singles reached No. 1 and fourteen others reached the Top 10. Twitty enjoyed less success in the 1990s but fared better than most veteran performers in the onslaught of new country musicians.
Three of Twitty’s four children recorded and sang with him as the Twitty Committee. On 4 June 1993 he suffered an abdominal aneurysm while performing in Branson, Missouri, and he died the following day.
Twitty had more No. 1 hits than any other pop music artist and wrote eleven of his chart-topping songs. In 1993 he was elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 1999 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and in 2012 he was honored with a Friars Point marker on the Mississippi Country Music Trail.
- Richard Carlin, Country Music: A Biographical Dictionary (2003)
- Barry McCloud, Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performers (1995)
- Mississippi Country Music Trail website, www.mscountrymusictrail.org
- Irwin Stambler and Grelun Landon, Country Music: The Encyclopedia (1997)